"There has never been any success in Carolina, where the Hartford Whalers relocated in 1997."
Stu Hackel, FOXSports.com, January 4, 2001

"The Carolina Hurricanes...may qualify as the NHL's least visible entity. There is an obscurity to them that doesn't apply to other teams."
Steve Duhatschek, The Hockey News, January 19, 2001

"What would an NHL All-Star game look like in a half-empty building? We might find out."
CBS SportsLine, on the Canes' bid to host the 2004 NHL classic, January 21, 2001

"One can only marvel at the depth of Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos' pockets. Hockey has yet to make a dent on the local sports scene, four years after the Hurricanes bolted from Hartford."
David Shoalts, SportWritersDirect, February 2, 2001

Odds given the Hurricanes making the Eastern Conference finals, by ESPN.com, February 11, 2001. "The high number represents the Hurricanes' home attendance for a recent game against Tampa Bay. As it stands, Carolina has about as much of a chance of making the finals as the franchise has of selling out a game against the Lightning."

"A 24-year-old who hasn't done squat in this league and probably never will. I've probably scored more goals in two years than he will in his career."
Phoenix Coyotes center Jeremy Roenick on the Hurricanes' Jeff O'Neill, who had called Roenick"a goon," "an idiot" and "arrogant."

"Some owners don't realize that it's nice to have a new arena, but the most important thing to have is asses in the seats."
Former Whalers owner Howard Baldwin, on sports franchises who don't look beyond the numbers on an arena lease before relocating, ESPN.com, March 22, 2001

""They probably couldn't have moved to a worse place."
Shawn Rife, manager of sports and entertainment research for Harris Interactive, ESPN.com, March 22, 2001

April-October, 1997 / November, 1997-May, 1998 / June-September, 1998 / October-December, 1998 / January-May 1999 / June-September 1999 / October-December, 1999 / January-April, 2000 / May-September 2000 / October-December 2000 / October, 2001-present

January, 2001

January 3: A 3-2 win over Tampa Bay draws 7,517. In 37 games, the Hurricanes have scored just 86 goals, ranking 27th in the 30-team league. Center Ron Francis has tallied one goal in his last eight games; Bates Battaglia has one goal in his last 13. Sami Kapanen has one goal in six games. Rod Brind'amour had only one goal in 14 games prior to being sidelined because of a groin injury.

"After short-term excitement and full arenas, Sun Belt teams have experienced a distinct drop-off in attendance, including both Florida clubs...and Anaheim," writes Stu Hacket for FOXSports.com in an article detailing the league's efforts to shore up financial support for the Phoenix Coyotes. "There has never been any success in Carolina, where the Hartford Whalers relocated in 1997."

January 6: Another announced sellout, vs. Colorado, is followed a day later by 8,627 for a home game vs. the Islanders.

January 10: A 7-3 win at home over Florida (ESPN.com's headline: "Hurricanes upgraded to lukewarm") runs the Canes' unbeaten home stretch to 6-0-1, matching the franchise record set by the Whalers in 1986. The victory moves Carolina over .500 for the first time since Oct. 18, five games into the season. The win moves the Canes past Atlanta for the second spot in the Southeast Division, six points behind Washington and Attendance: 8,732.

"The Carolina Hurricanes," writes Eric Duhatschek in January 19's The Hockey News, "may qualify as the NHL's least visible entity. Most nights, you can find the majority of teams somewhere on the satellite dish, but not the Hurricanes, who pretty much only show up as a visiting team. There is an obscurity to them that doesn't apply to other teams."

The Canes go into the weekend with a nine-game unbeaten streak, the longest since for the franchise since the 1985 Whalers. "The '85 team was similar in a lot of ways," says Ron Francis, who was on that team. "We were coming together and playing hard for each other. This team has come a long way since September, when we first got to know each other. The key is to continue to play the way we're playing." A win or tie would run the streak to 10, tying the franchise mark set in 1982. The Canes promptly drop a 6-2 Saturday decision to Los Angeles before 13,009. Defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh, back in the lineup after missing 10 games following knee surgery, takes a cross-checking penalty that leads to an LA goal, then less than four minutes later turns the puck over at center ice, allowing LA center Steve Reinprecht to score shorthanded. Ozolinsh finishes the game a minus-3 and is a team-worst minus-16 for the season. The match marks former Whaler Glen Wesley's 1,000th NHL game.

On Monday the Canes go down 5-2 to the Rangers, who end a 12-game road winless streak -- their worst in 37 seasons -- in Carolina in front of 11,193. Sandis Ozolinsh has two assists but defensive lapses and a giveaway leave him a minus-3 for the night. The Canes get a measure of revenge two days later, beating the Rangers 3-2 in New York.

January 27: An annouced sellout crowd sees the Canes give up a 3-1 lead and fall 4-3 to the Flyers, their third consecutive loss after a nine-game unbeaten streak. Carolina goes with out a shot for the first 12 minutes of the game and gives up a season-high 19 shots in the first period; their 18 shots match a season low. Former Whaler Paul Ranheim scores shortharded for Philadelphia, the fifth shorthanded goal Carolina has allowed at home, tying them for last in the NHL; Canes coach Paul Maurice accuses Ranheim of jumping over the boards too quickly and argues that the Flyers had too many men on the ice.

Two days later, a visit by Tampa Bay draws 8,030. A 5-2 win over the Lightning -- their 10th straight loss, worst in the NHL, and 11th in 12 games -- moves the Canes to within three points of Southeast Division leader Washington and one point behind Boston in the race for the final playoff berth. Ron Francis' first-period assist gives him 1,600 career points. The Canes' January record of 8-3-2 (18 points) is the best January in franchise history; the previous mark (17 points) was set by the Whalers in 1987-88 and again in 1995-96.

The Canes close out January hosting the Maple Leafs. The team blames questionable calls by the referees for a 4-3 loss. Attendance: 11,581. Of 11 home games in January, Carolina won five and tied one before losing four of the last five.

February, 2001

February 1: The Hurricanes head into All Star weekend with a 3-1 win over the Thrashers in Atlanta. Goaltender Arturs Irbe has started 40 consecutive games for the Canes. Their record at the break is 23-20-6-2, leaving them four points behind Washington and in ninth place in the Eastern Conference.

The sale of the Montréal Canadiens to American businessman George Gillett sets off a round of scrutiny of the NHL's financial status and prospects. The very fact that the league felt compelled to reassure fans that the Canadiens, the most storied franchise in hockey, would not be moved from Montréal -- an idea unimaginable just a few years ago -- set off alarms on both sides of the border. "From the sale of the Montreal Canadiens to an American," write David Shoalts in SportsWritersDirect, "to the protracted agony of the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes to the fan apathy on Long Island and in North Carolina, the signs of optimism about hockey's financial stability have faded. At this point, shrinking is more likely when it comes to NHL franchises....In North Carolina, one can only marvel at the depth of Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos' pockets. When the Toronto Maple Leafs paid a visit there earlier this week, it was clear that hockey has yet to make a dent on the local sports scene, four years after the Hurricanes bolted from Hartford....The Leafs/Hurricanes game was played on the same night that N.C. State played Wake Forest in a middling college hoops game, which meant the announced crowd at the rink was 11,000 and change."

Following the All-Star break, ESPN.com handicaps the playoff prospects for Eastern Conference teams. The Hurricanes are given 8,030-to-one odds of making the conference finals. "The high number represents the Hurricanes' home attendance for a recent game against Tampa Bay. As it stands, Carolina has about as much of a chance of making the finals as the franchise has of selling out a game against the Lightning."

Former Whalers in the News: Former Whalers defenseman Ulf Samuelsson announces his retirement, after 16 NHL seasons, on February 12. Drafted 67th overall by Hartford in 1982, "Ulfie" played his first seven seasons with the Whalers and was a fan favorite during his tenure in Hartford. But the Whalers traded him, along with Ron Francis and defenseman Grant Jennings, to Pittsburgh in March, 1991, for John Cullen, Zarley Zalapski and Jeff Parker, a move many still believe was the beginning of the end for Hartford. Samuelsson won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins that year and the next. The 37-year-old Samuelsson had 57 goals, 275 assists and 2,453 penalty minutes in 1,080 career games.

The Hurricanes will spend the rest of February playing leapfrog with the Boston Bruins for the eighth and final playoff spot. The first two weeks of the month are spent on the road, and result in wins at Atlanta and Phoenix, a tie in Los Angeles and losses in Anaheim and Detroit. February 16th's home match against Phoenix is the Coyotes' first game under a new management group that includes Wayne Gretzky; rumors that the game would sell out prove unfounded (attendance: 13,812). Despite generating just 18 shots, Phoenix wins 2-0. Coyotes' center Jeremy Roenick receives a two-minute penalty for a slash on Carolina's Jeff O'Neill at 18:39 of the third period. "The man is a goon, that's the bottom line," O'Neill says. "I hate him and have no respect for him. He's an idiot. I got an opportunity to meet him last night at a restaurant and things were pretty smooth. Then tonight happened. He's an arrogant man and an arrogant player. That's just his deal."

Roenick is unimpressed. "That's from a 24-year-old who hasn't done squat in this league and probably never will," he says. "I've probably scored more goals in two years than he will in his career."

The month's remaining home games draw 16,206 (Boston), 9,458 (Atlanta), 14,685 (New Jersey) and 18,730 (Washington).

March, 2001

The Canes begin March on the road again, with visits to the Islanders, Devils and Blackhawks. a 7-3 loss in New Jersey is rather ugly, but four points in three games, combined with the continuing woes of the Bruins, put Carolina in the final playoff spot. Their return home on March 7, to face Columbus, draws 9,067; their next home games, March 11 vs. Edmonton, March 14 vs. Montréal and March 18 vs. the Islanders, draw 13,124, 9,467 and 14,112. A win against the Islanders gives the Canes 75 points, 11 behind Southeast-leading Washington but three ahead of ninth-place Boston in the Eastern Conference.

Carolina defenseman and former Whaler Glen Wesley breaks his jaw in Sunday's 6-3 road victory over the Chicago Blackhawks and is expected to miss at least the next two weeks and possibly six. Wesley, who had played in all 65 games and has 21 points, was injured when the attendant in the Blackhawks' penalty box opened the door to release a Chicago player just as Wesley was checked by Chicago's Steve Dubinsky. The edge of the door caught Wesley, who was skating full speed, square on his right cheek. "It was a car crash," coach Paul Maurice said. "He was flying, and he got driven into it. I was shocked that he got back up."

A group of Raleigh-area business executives announce a booster organization committed to helping the Hurricanes secure an NHL All-Star Game by 2006. "We missed this step when the Hurricanes first came here four years ago," Capitol Broadcasting Co. President Jim Goodmon says at a news conference. "It's time for this community to say, 'Welcome, we're glad you're here.' The best way to express our support is to help the team sell ticket packages and to prove to the NHL that we're an All-Star region." The Hurricanes' season-ticket base hovers around 6,000; the team states that the goal is to double the number of season tickets sold for next season.

Boosting the season-ticket base tops the priority list for the group, but other hurdles include a lack of suitable hotel resources and necessary convention space for the league's All-Star interactive exhibits. The 2002 game will be played in Los Angeles; the Florida Panthers will the host the 2003 game. Competition for later spots will be tough as the league would like to showcase its four recent expansion teams. The Hurricanes have already submitted a formal bid for the 2003 NHL Draft, which could serve as a precursor to being a host to an All-Star Game.

March 13: the league's trading deadline comes quietly to Raleigh; the Canes are not active in what will turn out to be a rather anticlimactic day. Carolina had acquired veteran right wing Scott Pellerin from the Minnesota Wild in a March 1 deal that sent prospect Askhat Rakhmatullin and a third-round draft pick in the 2001 draft to Minnesota.

As the battle for the final playoff spot continues, the Hurricanes' TV contracts come under scrutiny. None of the five April games and only two of the final 11 games are scheduled to be televised locally. The Canes' split their broadcasts between two networks: Home Team Sports, where they take a back seat to the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals; and Fox Sports Net South, where priority is given to the Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Thrashers, Charlotte Hornets and ACC basketball. "Before you realize it, you're 10 deep in the rankings," Canes vice president Ken Lehner tells the News and Observer. "Everybody knows this is not an ideal situation. Even the TV networks agree with that." The deal, which runs through the 2001-02 season, was (like so many things) struck in haste when the team rushed out of Hartford. In 1997, the team was confident that all games would be televised; only 29 games were broadcast that year, lowest in the league.

March 14: Former Whaler Ron Francis collects his 1,000th point with the franchise, an assist against Washington, in his 943rd game.

March 16: The Hockey News weighs in with their report cards for the NHL's 30 teams. A possible trade of Hurricanes defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh is suggested. "Shopping Ozolinsh, who has a high price tag, isn't easy and initial feelers indicated there may not be a lot of takers... Ozolinsh hasn't been nearly the off-season catch the Hurricanes thought they had reeled in. His mistakes with the puck have outweighed his good moves."

March 22: "Pulling a Karmanos" enters the national parlance as an ESPN.com story outlines the hurdles faced by Vancouver Grizzlies' owner Michael Heisley in relocating his financially-troubled NBA team. In "Patient Heisley doesn't want to pull a Karmanos," reporter Darren Rovell compares the methodical research being conducted by Heisley to the "mistakes" Hartford Whalers owner Peter Karmanos made in setting up shop in North Carolina. "Karmanos spent so much time salivating over potential revenues streams in his new arena deal that 'any team in the NHL would love,' including nearby Research Triangle Park, that he forgot one of the most important keys to franchise longevity -- establishing a solid fan base," says Rovell. "But as Howard Baldwin, the first Whalers owner who controlled the organization until the late-'80s, said, 'Some owners don't realize that it's nice to have a new arena, but the most important thing to have is asses in the seats.'

"The team...has the league's second-worst average home attendance average at fewer than 13,000 per game. Although only a handful of NHL teams actually make a profit, the Hurricanes' losses of between $10 million to $15 million annually are still among the worst in the league....If there's any lesson to be learned from the Hurricanes' move to Carolina, it is that a great arena deal is only as good as the number of people that actually show up in the arena."

The story cites market research showing "little evidence that Raleigh is capable of supporting an NHL team" -- a Harris Interactive Poll, conducted in December, 2000, reveals the Raleigh-Durham area has the lowest percentage of "avid" NHL fans out of all league cities. While 59 percent of the area's general population considered themselves NHL fans, only 5 percent said they were avid fans -- the group most likely to buy season tickets. The same survey showed 53 percent of Hartford residents considered themselves NHL fans, despite being spurned by the league four years ago, while fan avidity was at 18 percent -- 13 percentage points higher than Raleigh-Durham.

"They probably couldn't have moved to a worse place," says Shawn Rife, manager of sports and entertainment research for Harris Interactive, in the ESPN.com article. "Our data indicates that there would have been other places that would have been much more successful."

March 30: The Hockey News' Future Watch lists no Hurricanes' prospect among its 2001 top 50. Overall the team is ranked 23rd in the league, with a grade of C-plus.

April, 2001

April 12: The Canes get off to a bad start in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, testing Devils goalie Martin Brodeur with only 18 shots and handing New Jersey a 5-1 victory. The Devils already had a 5-0 lead when Josef Vasicek scored for Carolina with 8:33 left.

April 13: The Hockey News rates Carolina's chances of making the Stanley Cup finals dead last in the pool of 18 teams still in contention for the playoffs at the time of printing -- with 200 to 1 odds.

April 15: Carolina again manages just 18 shots against New Jersey as they drop the second game of their quarterfinals series 2-0. Adding injury to insult, Devils captain Scott Stevens sends Hurricanes rookie Shane Willis to the hospital with an open-ice check with 11 seconds to play.

Willis was nearly knocked out when Stevens caught the 23-year-old right wing with a solid chest-and-shoulder check as Willis skated across center ice with his head down. While none of the Hurricanes said that Stevens' hit was dirty, the timing was called into question. "Ten seconds to go in the game, I don't think it's called for to hit a guy that hard in open ice, literally trying to end his career," says Canes' winger Rob DiMaio.

"The game is never over. I don't care how much time was left," Stevens says when asked if the hit was necessary. "I don't care when it is. I finish my checks right to the end. It doesn't matter if it's the regular season or the playoffs. If there were only 11 seconds left, maybe we should have called the game right there and forgot about playing the rest, I guess."

April 17: the Eastern Conference quarterfinals move to Raleigh, but the results are much the same as the Hurricanes stumble to a 5-0 loss. Jeff O'Neill tries to turn the tide for the Canes, delivering a hit to Devils captain Scott Stevens to the approval of the non-sellout crowd of 17,525. "That's like going into a lion's den with a piece of steak in your hand, getting him angry," Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko says. Seconds later, Stevens lays a crunching check that gaves Canes captain Ron Francis a mild concussion. The 38-year-old Francis attempts to get up from his knees several times, staggering toward the bench, but Francis is so stunned he can't find his way and play is halted. Francis doesn't miss a shift, but goes to the locker room midway through the period after the Devils took a 2-0 lead and does not return.

"They set the tone at the start by coming after me," Stevens says. "That inspires me and gets me going. When you come after me I'm going to be coming too and I'm going to meet the challenge and I'm going to be hitting anything that comes my way."

Things rapidly go from bad to worse for Carolina as goals by Bobby Holik at 4:44 and Scott Gomez at 7:20 into the first playoff game at the Entertainment and Sports Arena sent a hush over the fans -- the Hurricanes fans, anyway -- in attendance.

Most of the second and third periods are filled with fights and rough play as the Hurricanes attempted to take their frustration out on the Devils. With 13:26 left, Stevens squares off against Sandis Ozolinsh as several fights break out, leaving Carolina with just 10 skaters at one point. Fans pelt Stevens with debris before he heads to the penalty box. Carolina finishes with 19 penalties for 71 minutes ­ 54 in the third ­ while the Devils are called for 12 for 33 minutes.

"If they can't take the hitting maybe they should change professions," Devils coach Larry Robinson says. "The last time I looked this was a physical game and body checking was allowed. Basically, they dug a hole for themselves taking all those penalties."

Martin Brodeur records his second straight shutout and 10th of his playoff career, stopping just 16 shots. New Jersey has outscored the Hurricanes a combined 11-1 in the series. Carolina is shut out in consecutive playoff games for the first time in franchise history ­ a total of 58 games.

April 18: There may be some life left in the Hurricanes after all, as 14,339 see Carolina take a 2-2 tie into overtime on their way to a 3-2 win. On the brink of elimination, the Canes play a little looser, taking 33 shots at Devils goalie Martin Brodeur after managing just 52 in the first three games. The Canes played without Ron Francis and Shane Willis, both victims of Scott Stevens hits.

April 20: The series returns to New Jersey, and Carolina musters up just 14 shots on goal, but Canes goalie Arturs Irbe stops 37 and carries the team to a 3-2 victory, cutting the Devils' series lead to one game. It is New Jersey's first consecutive loss since late February.

The Hurricanes make the cover of the Hockey News...in their Annual Boom and Bust report. Sandis Ozolinsh is honored with a spot on the publication's 2000-01 All-Disappointment Team. "He didn't provide the
Hurricanes with consistent offense and remains a defensive liability," the report says. The All-Surprise Team features former Whaler Jeff O'Neill, "who blossomed into a
scoring star."

April 22: The Devils return to their mistake-free ways, and two quick goals in the first period gets New Jersey off to a fast start on their way to beating the Hurricanes 5-1, closing out the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series 4-2. It is the first announced sell-out of the series in Carolina; all three games in New Jersey played to capacity crowds of 19,040. The loss drops the Carolina franchise to 1-10 in 11 playoff series dating to 1980.


September, 2001

As the Canes approach their third full season in Raliegh, there is still no deal in place for naming rights to the Entertainment and Sport Arena. It took two years for the Hurricanes, North Carolina State University and the Centennial Arena Authority to agree on how to split the money -- and "the political wrangling may have cost them millions of dollars," notes Raleigh's WRAL.com. "Arena officials want $4 million a year for the right to splash a corporate logo across the ESA. According to an article in Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal, the naming rights are worth just $1 million a year....In the article which appeared in the Aug. 13 issue, one expert says: 'The local government has been so slow to legislate approval that they've missed the opportunity to sell in a good economy. It's cost them at least 30 percent annually.'"

"In retrospect," says Hurricanes president Jim Cain, "everybody regrets we didn't have the deal done before the arena opened. It's always better to have a name on the building when it opens than not," he says. "And we think they've missed the number by $3 million a year."

The sluggish economy knocked some potential corporate sponsors out of the running. Now they are aiming for the end of this calendar year.

April-October, 1997 / November, 1997-May, 1998 / June-September, 1998 / October-December, 1998 / January-May 1999 / June-September 1999 / October-December, 1999 / January-April, 2000 / May-September 2000 / October-December 2000 / October, 2001-present

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